Oisin McCarthy is heading into Sixth year at St Colman’s Community College Midleton this year, where he’ll be joined by his two sisters Anysha who is starting Third Year and Sabhbh who starts First Year.
Even though Oisin and Anysha have been using the Bus Eireann School service for a decade their mother Lorraine, has been told there is no space on the bus this year!
The children all went to National Schools from where, traditionally, children go on to Secondary schools in Midleton.
The McCarthys are just one of hundreds of East Cork second level students that have been left stranded at the side of the road, having been denied a place on the Bus Eireann school run.
In April Ms McCarthy from Killeagh registered her three children for the school transport service for the coming year.
The single mother of three made the €650 family payment to the Bus Company before last month’s payment deadline.
However, just two weeks before the new school term Lorraine, along with parents of second level children from Killeagh, Inch, Mount Uniacke and Castlemartyr, received emails denying places on the school service.
The pupils are not automatically eligible for a seat as their nearest school is Pobailscoil Na Trionoide in Youghal.
Under the Post Primary Scheme children are eligible for transport where they reside not less than 4.8km from, and are attending, their nearest education centre as determined by Bus Éireann.
Ms McCarthy said many families are frustrated with a school transport system that tells them to send their children to Youghal when the only secondary school is at capacity.
She said the latest development is adding to the parents stress ahead of the new school year.
“Many parents are working fulltime and don’t know what to do. We are under enough stress getting books and uniforms ready and now to tell them two weeks before the school year that they don’t have a seat is just adding to the stress.”
The young mother, who lost her job in November, says while she is in a position to drive her children to school at present, it may be a struggle for many others who are expected to find €30 per child per week to send their child to school with a private contractor.
In 2017 almost 700 children were denied places. However the situation was resolved for many prior to the commencement of the 2017/2018 term.
This year the situation is believed to be worse with Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth year students all being denied a place.
There are a number of discretionary seats available to students choosing to travel outside their catchment area.
Bus Eireann says when these are gone they are restricted, by Department of Education rules, from putting bigger buses on the route, at an extra cost to the State, to cater for the concessionary pupils.
Labour spokesperson for Children Sean Sherlock, who is backing the parents, says more flexibility is needed in the school transport system.
The Cork East Deputy said “Every year this issue arises and every year the Government wrings its hands, expresses sympathy and waits for parents to become exasperated and give up the fight.”
A review of the bus service that costs the state €1million a day to run found that buses are only half filled with students who are entitled to seats.
Deputy Sherlock said he was very concerned over the reduction of concessionary places.
“According to the Central Statistics Office nationally over 60% travel by car to work or schools. Rather than increase vehicle numbers on already chaotic roads, extra capacity is required in the school bus network.”
He said “We must create a supply of bus seats with parents willingly paying for tickets, as they already are, to take cars off the roads and encourage public transport use.”
The Department of Education was asked for a response, but none was forthcoming prior to going to press.